Writing your CV, Part 3: Describing your professional experience

Last week we looked at the Objective and Summary sections of your CV.  This week, I’d like to discuss how to describe your professional experience.


The most important thing to keep in mind when writing this section is that your experience must connect to the job description.

To give you a real-life example, I would like to go back to the Visual Merchandiser job we looked at last week.  If you remember, we used the Key Requirements of the job to build the Skills Summary section.  Now let’s look at the actual job description.  This is found in Key Accountabilities.

Key Accountabilities

    • Ensure products display according to the company standards guidelines
    • Window and store environment: ensuring that lighting, props, and furniture are in excellent conditions. Reorder props and visual merchandising tools where necessary
    • Support regional and local teams to support current business trends and ensuring key products are selected and well displayed
    • Share qualitative and photographic feedback after each product rotation
    • Implement visual displays merchandising for key business events (new launches and collections)
    • Ongoing training of store staff in visual merchandising standards (such as permanent and seasonal visual merchandising guidelines)

Now let’s look at a real CV for a visual merchandiser that I found online.

Date – date:  High-end department store, London:  Visual Merchandiser

    • Organisation of effective and sufficient use of store space.
    • Implementation and execution schemes with eye-catching product displays to attract customers and grow sales
    • Promotion of brands by researching current looks and trends
    • Work in partnership with marketing and creative teams, managers, buyers, designers, and other senior visual merchandisers either internally and externally
    • Coordination of in-store walkthroughs with managers and key stakeholders in order to promote seasonal trends and influence sales
    • Ensured displays are well-maintained by delivering weekly floor moves in store and window installation
    • Demonstrated co-operation in the smooth running of the department by always meeting deadlines and by being self-sufficient.
    • Assisted senior designers in the artwork and production of brand logos, banners, posters, graphics, in-store navigation, and POS signage by using Adobe Illustrator and InDesign programmes
    • Work very well under pressure and manage my time efficiently.

Key achievements:  Project management – from concept given to me by the marketing team, I gather appropriate research, come up with proposals, and liaise with contractors, shop floor managers, and stakeholders to make sure all the parties are aware of any changes.  Then when the scheme is going live, if any problems occur I will solve them with a calm attitude.

 

Overall, this isn’t too bad.  But, it is a little wordy.  The first thing we are going to do it take out the extra words.  Then we will rewrite this section based on the job description.

Here’s a hint: put the skills in the order of the job description.  When I have to review a lot of CVs, I often have a checklist of must-have skills. If you put the skills in the same order as the advert, it makes easy for the recruiter.  With that in mind, matching her CV to the requirements of the job would look something like this. 

Ensure products display according to the company standards guidelines

Conducted research on current looks and trends, then designed eye-catching product displays according to each brand’s guidelines.  Sales figures show year-on-year growth with each of my displays.

Window and store environment: ensuring that lighting, props and furniture are in excellent conditions. Reorder props and visual merchandising tools where necessary

Ensured displays were well-maintained by delivering weekly floor moves in-store and window installation.

Support regional and local teams to support current business trends and ensuring key products are selected and well displayed.

Coordinated in-store walkthroughs with key stakeholders to promote seasonal trends and influence sales.

Share qualitative and photographic feedback after each product rotation

Worked in partnership with key personnel for feedback on each product rotation.

Implement visual displays merchandising for key business events (new launches and collections)

Assisted senior designers in the implementation of artwork for launches and events using Adobe Illustrator and InDesign

Ongoing training of store staff in visual merchandising standards (such as permanent and seasonal visual merchandising guidelines)

This wasn’t addressed in her CV, but this wouldn’t be hard to imagine this was part of her job.  Often, you don’t actually think about specific job tasks until you see them listed in an advert.

The three bullet points about being self-sufficient are not needed. These are qualities that she could address either in the cover letter or, if this is an electronic application without a cover letter, in the Skills Summary section.

It is good, however, to show the tangible[1] results of your work, as she did in the first bullet point of her job.  You don’t need to do this for every task, but you should have at least one in each job listed on your CV.

You might also see that I changed the first word in each bullet point from a noun to an action verb. Organisation becomes organised. Coordination becomes coordinate. Action verbs are more dynamic.  A great list of action verbs for CVs can be found here.

When listing your professional experience, start with your most recent job and work your way back.  If you have had multiple positions within one company, list them all under the one company with the appropriate dates and job titles.

It’s also important to put the job description first, followed by the company and location.  Recruiters are more interested in what you do than who you worked for.

So, the updated job description of our Visual Merchandiser would look like this:

Date – date:  Visual Merchandiser, High-end department store, London

    • Conducted research on current looks and trends, then designed eye-catching product displays according to each brand’s guidelines. Sales figures show year-on-year growth with each of my displays.
    • Ensured displays were well-maintained by delivering weekly floor moves in-store and window installation.
    • Coordinated in-store walkthroughs with key stakeholders to promote seasonal trends and influence sales.
    • Worked in partnership with key personnel for feedback on each product rotation.
    • Assisted senior designers in the implementation of artwork for launches and events using Adobe Illustrator and InDesign

In this case, it was easy to connect her experience directly to the job description in the ad.  But what if your experience doesn’t connect so easily?

Highlight the areas that do connect and leave the rest off.

A good example of this is a friend of mine who worked in banking prior to the 2008 financial crisis.  In 2009, his entire team was made redundant.[2]  Unfortunately, there were no other jobs in the area, and he couldn’t move because of family issues.  After 18 months of unemployment, he began working as a sales associate in a big-box DIY store.[3]  The pay wasn’t great, but the work was regular.  He worked really hard and went from a sales associate to department manager in just 18 months.

When jobs in his field started appearing again in 2011, he included the DIY store on his CV.  This would have been a waste of space if he just said that he sold lawnmowers and garden furniture.

Instead, he framed the experience within the context of the job descriptions:  he built a team within his department, he set and reached goals for both himself and his team, and he displayed a high level of emotional intelligence.[4]  (Anyone who has ever worked with the public knows how difficult this is.)

Interviewers were fascinated by this experience and how much he got out of it.  My friend not only got multiple interviews; he also got several job offers.

But what if you don’t have much experience?  Or if you are returning to work after a break?  What do you do then?

Think about what you did during that time.

Were you president of a club at school? That shows organisational skills, time management, team building, and delegation skills.

Or maybe you volunteered at your child’s school?  Work like that involves a great deal of people skills. (Anyone who has ever worked with other parents will understand that one!)

Or maybe you had a part-time summer job?  Or a practicum as part of your course work?

Each of these experiences is valuable, so think about how you can present them.

Before you update your CV, sit down and list everything you did in each of your positions or experiences – both in terms of tasks and soft skills.  I bet you have more than you think.  When you see a job that interests you, look to that list to see where your skills match.


That’s it for this week.  Thanks for joining me!

If you have any questions about writing your CV – or anything else, for that matter – please contact me.  I’m sure others have that question too, and I’m happy to answer them.

If you need personal help getting your CV together, I now offer CV review and interview help in English. If you’re interested, leave me a message on my website. I’d be happy to speak to you about it. 

 As always, have a great week and stay safe wherever you are!


[1] Tangible (adj):  easily seen or recognized

[2] If you are made redundant, you lose your job because it is no longer necessary or because your employer cannot afford to keep paying you.  It’s not because you did something wrong.

[3] DIY means Do It Yourself.  If you paint your apartment yourself, rather than pay someone to do it, you are a DIYer.  A big-box DIY store is a large store that sells paint, lumber, electrical stuff, plumbing, kitchens, bathrooms, lawnmowers, etc.

[4] Emotional intelligence is being able to understand your emotions and keep them under control – particularly when you are stressed out.